School Consolidation: No Panacea

For Ohio schools, 2010 was a very good year.  Education Week ranked Ohio’s education system 5th in the nation and the Education Commission of the States applauded Ohio’s efforts under Governor Strickland to reform its school system. But with “consolidation” on the mind of our governor and several republican legislators, all of that could change in 2011. Several reports, the most recent from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, indicate that consolidation is not necessarily the funding panacea Ohio’s legislators think it will be.

Based on a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, and the Greater Ohio Policy Center, our Governor advocates the elimination of at least one third of Ohio’s districts. If the governor was a student of mine, I would tell him to question everything he hears, never go by one source, and do your research.

The Great Lakes Center report points out there is no guarantee consolidation will save any significant amounts of money and may jeopardize the quality of education. Even an analysis by the Dayton Daily News had similar findings saying that many consolidated districts may save in superintendant salaries, but add other administrative costs that offset the savings. There are also other hidden costs to taxpayers such as the increased costs of transportation.

Marty Strange, policy director of the Rural School and the Community Trust agrees and says that in small districts superintendants often act as a jack-of-all-trades, but in larger districts those duties are meted out to additional administrators. “On a per-graduate basis, a high school with as few as 100 kids has a lower cost-per-graduate than a school with 1000 kids.”
There are also hidden costs to funding consolidation. West Virginia has spent more than $1 billion on consolidation in the last ten years, including expenses to shut down smaller schools to build larger ones. State leaders have admitted that it hasn’t brought down administrative costs, energy costs, or transportation costs despite the fact that there are fewer districts and fewer students then ever before.

Other problems include wasted time riding buses that pollute our air, less individualized attention for students, and fewer opportunities to participate in extra curricular activities. Let’s face it, if you combine three high schools, there will still be only one football team with the same number of players. This also increases the barriers to entry for parental involvement. If you think parent attendance for parent-teacher conferences couldn’t be any lower, try adding an extra 30-minute drive to that equation.

Republicans purport to be the party of small government. The Republican Party Platform derides “bigger government” and calls on the government to limit its reach into people’s lives. So why don’t live up to their stated principles now? State legislators need to give control back to the local school districts and let us govern ourselves!

Consolidation should never be about saving money, but only about improving education. Local districts have managed to consolidate schools within their districts and improve education on their own without having big brother to tell us what to do. Let’s keep it that way!

By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association

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